software, hardware and four ounces of self-tapping screws

“… and four candles, please.”

‘A rose by an other name is pobably a software solution’

I needed some new software recently and I started thinking about names, how quickly they enter our language and become accepted parts of the vocabulary. It was seeing ‘The Social Network’* that started it off I suppose. You may not use ‘Facebook’ or ‘Twitter’ (and Tweet) but I bet you probably ‘text’ unless you SMS? I never would SMS, thank you very much! Maybe that decision depends on if you have a ‘mobile’ or a ‘cell phone’. You most certainly have software otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this now. 

But where did ‘software’ come from exactly? 

As a phrase computer software must have come into being to contrast with computer hardware and ‘hardware’ is quite straight forward, isn’t it? Not if you were Mr Grix it wouldn’t be; hardware was something very different back then. Mr Grix ran the local hardware shop when I was growing up. He wore a fawn coat and his shop had that unique hardware shop smell: a combination of paint and solvents and linoleum and oil and paraffin (quite heavy on the paraffin I think) and to even imagine the smell is to be transported back to a time when everything was a lot bigger and cheaper. 

Mr Grix would not have known what to do with a PCB or a sound card or any sort of peripheral! 

But if we do accept ‘hardware’ then ‘software’ is self evident aurely? It’s pliable, mouldable even? Except it isn’t, generally – start playing around with your computer’s software and you’ll soon be in trouble! It’s a fixed as your mother board (does anybody talk mother boards anymore?) use to be. 

Workflow image courtesy of Autoscribe

Laboratory software sounds like it should refer to agar jelly and silicon tubing instead of a number of increasingly sophisticated programmes that assist in the running of a modern lab. Chief amongst these are LIS and LIMS – laboratory information and laboratory information management systems – which have become increasingly important for medical, pharmaceutical and environmental labs; anywhere with a great need to track, order and check large numbers of samples. Fortunately these software solutions (and when did that enter the language!?) have remained supremely configurable, often integrating with laboratory instrumentation, making their choice and implementation an important decision for any new or upgrading laboratory. 

I don’t know what Mr Grix would have made of it all though. He kept all his information in a double-lined, foolscap ledger in a shade of fawn that you just don’t seem to get these days either.

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